A Preliminary Personal Evaluation from India

Metropolitan Paulos Gregorios,

Secretary for External Church Relations, The Orthodox Syrian Church of the East

We have been living under a national emergency, ever since it was declared on 26th June, 1975. The declaration of emergency has called forth a rally of criticism both within and outside India. Not least among them has been the letter written by the General Secretary of The World Council of Churches, Dr. Philip Potter to Srimati Indira Gandhi, the Prime Minister of India on October 9th, 1975.

As a citizen of India and as a member of the Central Committee of The World Council of Churches, as well as a delegate of the Orthodox Syrian Church of the East to The World Council’s fifth Assembly in Nairobi Kenya, I wish to offer the following comments on the situation as it appears to me on 15th November, 1975, when this is being written after a period of more than four months under National Emergency.

There are four questions to be answered

  1. Was the declaration of National emergency necessary?

  2. Have the common man’s dignity and freedom been adversely affected by it to any substantial extent?

  3. What has been achieved by it? What have been the abuses of it?

  4. Is it likely to continue indefinitely?

The answers to these four questions could also in a sense throw light on the following remarks of the General Secretary of the World Council of Churches addressed to the Prime Minister of India.

“We understand that a very large number of political prisoners have been held under Emergency laws. There is wide spread distress over the detention without trial of people arrested on political grounds and the total denial to them of any judicial remedies. We feel strongly that the powers now assured by the Executive under the amended maintenance of Internal Security Act, which provides that no grounds be given for the detention of any person and that no person detained shall have any rights to personal liberty, constitutes a very serious abridgement of human rights. More than three months have elapsed since the declaration of the emergency and the conformance of these measures against those who have dissenting political views is very disgusting. We are also concerned about the regulations regarding the discrimination of information in the country. We welcome the attempts you have initiated to carry out, with greater vigor and determination, economic reforms for bringing about justice to the masses. However, the participation of all sections of the people in the task of building the nation, for which you have exhorted the people especially in recent months, requires-------------------to discriminate information exchange of -------------including dissenting.

II Was the declaration of emergency justified?

There are some who argue that if there are any positive gains from the Emergency, mostly these could have been achieved just as well in the normal course of things with a little extra effort.

The Government of India brought act in July 1975 a pamphlet entitled “Why Emergency” and a summary of it was also published under the title “Saving Nation from Lawlessness, Reason for Emergency”. The Government’s argument may be succinctly summarized as follows:-

The trend began with the elections in 1967. There was a leadership struggle within the Congress. Mrs. Gandhi won the battle. 1971 elections gave her a massive popular mandate. The opposition had focused on an attack as the person of Mrs. Gandhi. The nation did not give support to the attack. It was an undemocratic minority that led the attack. Vested interest of the extreme right and the extreme left converged in their opposition to Mrs. Gandhi, while the masses of the people (not the middle classes, as some people say) were with her.

In Gujarat and Bihar, the extremist parties began organizing student strikes. Mr. Jai Prakash Narain took the leadership of this movement to ------------- Mrs. Gandhi by undemocratic means. The agitation became--------------died and there were 544 cases of violence and the police had to open fire 54 times. A large number of policemen were injured.

According to the Government, Mr. Jai Prakash Narain was inciting the people to armed rebellion. He declared publicly in September, 1974, that it was an open confrontation with the Centre. In December, 1974, he openly asked the people to revolt in so many explicit words. He had already engaged in several undemocratic practices like instigating/inciting people to “gherao” or obstruct the Parliament, the government charges that “the opposition parties persistently obstructed Parliament from functioning”. Then came the assassination of Shri L. N. Mishra, Minister of Railways, and the attempt on the life of the Chief Justice of India. The Prime Minister’s life too was obviously in danger.

The meeting of the opposition leaders from June 21-25 in Delhi was the last straw. Their decision was to launch a nation wide agitation. They talked about de-recognizing the Government, of not paying taxes. Mr. Jai Prakash even went to the extent of calling upon the army, the police and Government employees to disobey orders from authorities. National emergency had to be declared. The pro emergency act thus seeks to show that if the emergency had not been declared

(a) undemocratic forces would have been seriously try undemocratic means.

(b)The economy of the nation would have been seriously --------------to the point of total economic collapse and

(c) there was some danger that some foreign powers were keenly interested in precipitating such a situation so that forces favourbale to the capitalist nations or to the extreme left nations could have taken over power.

Some people would even go to the extent of thinking that the World Council of Churches is also being used, perhaps unwillingly, to support the cause of the external elements which want either a situation of total chaos as prelude to revolution or a swing to the right which will make more secure the interests of the privileged and undemocratic minority in India. If power goes into the hands of the extreme right, or extreme left, there is likely to be even less people’s participation than therefore has been in the past. Recent developments have shown that the bulk of the people’s support is still behind the Prime Minister.

The Prime Minister admits that the Emergency could have been avoided if less drastic but decisive action had been taken much earlier against some of the opposition leaders (Rajya Sabha speech of July 22, 1975). But history moved on and the nation was on the verge of crises and there was no solution short of a declaration of national emergency.

The Prime Minister also admitted in her July 22nd speech that the Economic Programme could theoretically have been better implemented before the National Emergency and without its aid. -------- argument which is a fairly valid one is that --------------------------implementation was not present.

II.  Has there been Curtailment of basic human rights

The allegations have been mainly that two kinds of freedom have been taken away from the people by the national emergency.

(a) the freedom of expression, primarily through free political discussion and discrimination of ideas through organized public meetings and send the same through mass media, have been significantly curtailed

(b) People who are detained by Government under the MISA have no recourse to the courts of law in order to procure justice

Seen from a theoretical liberal perspective these two allegations, if they are true, amount to a substantial abridgement of fundamental human rights.

But there are many of us, including the present writer, who would like to question fundamentally the theoretical notion of freedom in liberal democratic thought. Are these the basic freedoms, seen from the perspective of where we are in India? Some of us have in our own life-time emerged from Princely States where the will of the Maharajah was law and there was practically no Royal dictatorship such as existed in Travancore and has given us the basic human dignity that allows us to assemble, express and act with a measure of freedom and has given us the possibility of appealing to the courts against the injustices perpetrated against us.

But was this freedom really available to the masses in the country? Did the newspapers truly express the ideas of the masses or were many of them controlled by big financial and industrial interests who used their freedom of expression to support and sustain anti-democratic and anti-people reactionary forces. One has to be fair and admit that not all newspapers were equally on the side of the reactionaries. But is it not a fact that practically all the large circulation newspapers are controlled by the Capitalist class?